Contorno generally refers to vegetables or side salad in Italian cuisine, something served before the main meal. But Hannibal is definitely serving something up that’s meatier than any old carrot/broccoli dish – “Contorno”, resembling a mirror image of season 2’s climactic fight between Hannibal and Jack Crawford, continues to bring Hannibal’s enemies closer together while finally putting the cannibal in danger. Each of them are traveling on their own paths; Will and Chiyo ride together on a train to Florence, Jack and Inspector Pazzi set up camp in town to track Il Monstro, and Mason Verger and Alana Bloom work to put out a bounty on Hannibal’s head so they can torture and kill him. Last episode showed the seeds sown to get these characters into position and the motives for doing so, and now “Contorno” completes that arc.
Season 3 is, so far, extremely different from the previous ones. By separating its characters, the episodes are forced to segment each of their foci. “Contorno”, then, is basically split into three parts, following each one of the trio as they traverse their own obstacles that stand in front of Hannibal. For Will and Chiyo, there’s a distrust because Will manipulated Chiyo into killing her tormentor. Chiyo recognizes Hannibal’s influence over Will, his struggle between becoming a killer and murdering that part of himself; and so, in a suspenseful moment, she pushes him off the train.
“Contorno” shows his balletic tumble, and the episode picks up on the operatics of these events coming to fruition. Hannibal and Inspector Pazzi tip-toe their way around one’s knowledge about the other – Hannibal knows Pazzi is out to frame him, while Pazzi knows Hannibal is the same Il Monstro from his past. Mason and Alana maneuver Pazzi into position, basically setting his own death into motion. And Jack Crawford, too, has a disconcerting role in Pazzi’s violent disembowelment as well – by motivating Pazzi to go after Hannibal, he also uses him as a type of bait so he can capture Hannibal like an animal.
Hannibal draws attention to this ballet with a literal use of symphonic music in its concluding scene; much like “Mizumono”‘s grandiose soundtrack during the Jack-Hannibal scuffle, “Contorno” relies on “La gazza ladra” during the fight scene’s choreography, and it’s a beautiful moment in an episode full of nuanced cinematography. It’s a reversal of Hannibal’s past upper hand – this time Jack, hiding out in Hannibal’s workshop, is able to sneak up on Hannibal and do major damage. It’s unclear whether “Contorno” means to show Hannibal in a state of weakness, or if this is part of the plan, but “Contorno”‘s hearkening back to previous episodes in the show has monumental thematic energy.
Still, “Contorno” sometimes stretches itself thin. Mason and Alana are noticeably absent in this episode besides a couple of scenes showing their push to get Pazzi to turn Hannibal over to them. The episode also rushes Pazzi’s attack on Hannibal; while Hannibal definitely realizes Pazzi’s motives, it’s unrealistic to think Pazzi so incompetent after years of searching for Il Monstro. His demise feels too convenient for the plot, but at least it’s in the most brutal way possible.
Other than that, though, “Contorno” is a masterful episode. Its treatment of Jack specifically is fascinating, centralizing on the recent death of Bella and the spreading of her ashes and Jack’s wedding ring; it comes up again with Hannibal’s taunts, a low blow even for Hannibal. The final fight is a beautiful dance, and it’s as though Hannibal is giving Jack something he deserves.
Snails come up yet again in this installment, both fed to Bedelia and spoken about by Chiyo. They’ve been a symbol throughout this season; they’re weak, used as bait, but they’re also parasitic in the sense that Hannibal uses them as a flavoring by feeding them meat which then makes them even more flavorful. Here, Chiyo refers to her and Will as snails in the belly of the beast; like snails making it out of a bird’s digestive system intact, they’ve traveled the world metaphorically in Hannibal. It hits on the most important aspect of Hannibal – the hunt for Hannibal is one of the most interesting things in Jack’s and Will’s lives, and they’re both hesitant to end it. It explains why, despite Jack’s opportunity, he decides (perhaps subconsciously) to let Hannibal live. Unfortunately, NBC didn’t see that way when they canceled the series.